Don Lee: Writing for Himself First, by Robert Lee Brewer

Don Lee, author of the story collection Yellow, did not exactly sweat over getting his first book published. As Lee relates, “I’m 41 now, but when I was 38, I started thinking about turning 40. That was looming over my head, and I thought to myself, ‘You know, I would really like to have a book — something to show for all these years.’ That’s really what pressed me into putting together a collection.”

Lee, who is also the editor of a well-known literary journal, has been publishing stories for years. However, he’s the first to admit he doesn’t work at the most prolific pace. “I pretty much relegated writing to a hobby and considered myself an editor, both as a career and vocation. Essentially, every year-and-a-half to two years, I would write and publish a story.”

The result has been successful. Yellow has been compared to such big gun story collections as Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio and James Joyce’s Dubliners. All the stories revolve around a fictional town in California called Rosarita Bay and deal with the issues of being Asian American in a mostly white American society.

Here Lee talks about Yellow, as well as the business of getting a collection of stories published.

Was this book a premeditated collection or did it just sort of come together?

A long time ago I was taking a train from San Francisco to Los Angeles. We were pretty far inland and riding along this backwater canal. There was a seaplane moored on this canal, and I thought, “Who owns this seaplane? What is it doing that far inland when there isn’t any kind of river or lake for it to take off?” So that starting image inspired the story “Casual Water.” I don’t think I named the town at that time, but I started writing stories around the same kind of geographical locale and scenery. I thought this might eventually come together as a collection, but I was sure taking my sweet time.

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